To Embrace Is To Create A Beautiful And Necessary Magazine:  The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With John Sotomayor, Founder & Publisher, Embrace Magazine.

January 6, 2023

”The pandemic brought the world to a halt, but not Embrace Magazine. I decided to launch anyway, keeping all unpaid ads intact to allow LGBTQ+ owned businesses and their ally businesses a chance to bring awareness to their products and services during the pandemic while launching the magazine as it was intended…” John Sotomayor

“Publishing Embrace will always be a labor of love akin to the quote by Mark Twain, “find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” however, it is definitely a business venture…”  John Sotomayor

What happens when you mix in a blender a creative person at heart, with a strong business sense and enjoys the aesthetic appeal of magazine design, along with the intellectual application of the editorial content that can have an outward impact on the world around us? This person also adds every personal and educational experience of his life into the mix.  And did I fail to mention he is gay, and also Roman Catholic?  This and all is John Sotomayor, the publisher, editor-in-chief, and executive producer of the Florida based Embrace Magazine and Media.

I met John last year at the annual conference of the Florida Magazine Association where I was speaking.  His love for magazines and specifically for what he was doing with magazines, was evident in every single word he told me.  I could feel the passion, the love, the excitement, but at the same time the fear of the future.  How can one survive in this marketplace and how can a great magazine (my words, not his) survive in the midst of all the headwinds?

I have decided to interview John and ask him a few questions about him and Embrace magazine and Embrace media.  What follows is my Q and A with John: 

Samir Husni: Two years ago, you single handedly launched Embrace, tell me the story of that launch and your memories of that period…

John Sotomayor: After the success of a previous brand magazine, I decided I wanted to launch an LGBTQ+ magazine, which was more inline with my identity. I decided to make my formal announcement on June 28, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in my native New York City, which signified the start of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. I used the next few months on market research and development. Prepared to launch in January 2020, I had some delays that occur naturally with a startup. I was ready to launch next quarter, April 2020 when the world had other plans. The pandemic brought the world to a halt, but not Embrace Magazine. I decided to launch anyway, keeping all unpaid ads intact to allow LGBTQ+ owned businesses and their ally businesses a chance to bring awareness to their products and services during the pandemic while launching the magazine as it was intended. It paid off. We received public engagement. Emergency relief funds provided us the financial assistance we needed to get the first three issues published. 

S.H. : As you reflect on the launch, what are some of the most pleasant moments that you can recall?

J. S. : The most pleasant moments involved working with the contributors and our supporters toward developing the vision and content I desired to achieve the level of publication I sought Embrace to be. Everyone brought their A game. Many contributed at a fraction of their worth, and some contributed for free. Where some might have thought print publishing was on a downturn at best, and a thing of the past at worst, those around me saw this as an opportunity to achieve a next level platform for the LGBTQ+ community. Then, there was the reveal. The premiere issue exceeded all expectations. Minds were blown, and new engagement began instantaneously. My former employer, Kendra Akers, publisher for Akers Media Group publications I wrote for, sent the following message, “Hi John, WOW, you have outdone yourself with this publication. Great job! I wish you the best of luck with this new endeavor! I think people will really love it and appreciate it.” She was right. Many others shared similar sentiments. On competition level, judges awarded us with the highest honors in every competition we entered for various journalism organizations throughout Florida and the nation. 

S.H. : What are the biggest hurdles you faced and how did you overcome them?  In case you did not overcome them, what are the plans to do so?

J. S. : The largest hurdle we faced so far was the COVID-19 pandemic that saw a worldwide shutdown and isolation for almost two years. As we all know, businesses were closed from most of 2020 – 2021. Even when they reopened, for their own survival, they had to drastically reduce their operating budgets. The first for most to go was advertising. That was our bread and butter. We managed to stay afloat by publishing three issues per year rather than four. We planned to publish quarterly. We also kept our operational costs extremely low, again, thanks to the generosity of our contributors. Not only did I not make any earnings for the first three years, but I also contributed financially from my personal savings. It is unwise but necessary. This leads to the next hurdle, becoming sustainable, and even profitable. The solution I am currently negotiating is an acquisition deal with a major media group that sees value in our branding. They have a vast umbrella of luxury brand magazines, but none solely devoted to the lucrative LGBTQ+ audience. Embrace is that asset. If the deal goes through, they will handle all operations — circulation, distribution, advertising, expansion — and I will retain creative control as managing partner, publisher, and editor-in-chief. We will retain our status as a certified LGBTBE (LGBT Business Owned Enterprise), granted to us by the NGLCC (The National LGTB Chamber of Commerce). That status as an LGBTQ+ owned business helps us enormously to attract businesses, including Fortune 500 companies, that wish to do business with a supplier diversity business. 

S. H. : The magazine was well received by the magazine community in the state of Florida and in fact it won the magazine of the year in its first year from the Florida Magazine Association. What’s next?

J. S. : Thank you, that was a major moment for us! To give the full effect of winning Magazine of the Year by the Florida Magazine Association in 2021, we need to add that Embrace Magazine won Charlie (first place) for Best New Magazine, Best Overall Magazine, and won Magazine of the Year, all in the magazine’s inaugural year. That has never happened before and some say, may never happen again. Also, we took top honors in all four Best Overalls, including Charlie for Best Overall Writing and Best Overall Magazine, and Silver (second place) for Best Overall Design and Best Overall Digital Innovator, the latter a new category. No other magazine has ever accomplished that either yet. In total, we were honored with 22 awards, the highest any startup magazine has ever garnered. We also made history at the FMA as the first ever LGBTQ+ magazine member in 2021, the organization established in 1953, and the highest awarded startup. We made history with the Associated Church Press, being the first LGBTQ+ magazine member in 2020 of that Christian-based journalism organization, established in 1916. This year, we added a national award from the NLGJA: Association of LGBTQ Journalists for Photo-journalism Excellence, and a national board position for me, as publisher, with the NLGJA as well. Both occurred in Chicago. The FMA also added me as a board member. As a result of these achievements, Embrace Magazine was approached by the Poynter Institute of Media Studies to do a profile on us as a successful startup LGBTQ+ magazine. That by itself, is a high honor given the status in media the Poynter Institute carries. What’s next in 2023? I have already entered us in the GLAAD Media Awards. We should know the results in early 2023. If we are a finalist, I will attend the ceremony in either Los Angeles or New York City. If we win, anything is possible, as that will indeed be a high honor. 

S. H. : Is publishing Embrace still a labor of love or more of a business venture now?

J. S. : Publishing Embrace will always be a labor of love akin to the quote by Mark Twain, “find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” however, it is definitely a business venture. Embrace is designed by Em Agency, owned by my good friend and long-time colleague, Jamie Mark. With them, we work on ads together. Our website, embracemedia.us was designed by A Great Idea, owned by my new close associate, Shane Lukas, who also contributes content to our online resource blog. We added Embrace Media, which in addition to the magazine, includes Embrace On-Air, our radio show broadcast out of 93.6 FM/1370 AM WOCA The Source, in Ocala. We create video content inhouse but are also in negotiations with Gardner Productions based in Toronto, Canada and New York City to create video advertisements. Hopefully, the acquisition deal with the media group goes through. We should see regional distribution grow to include Barnes & Noble for print, then eventually expand to other regional markets, applying national content to regional advertising. Ultimately, I hope Embrace Magazine and Embrace Media take me to a comfortable retirement, while leaving a lasting legacy. 

S. H. : What makes John tick and click?

J. S. : I am creative at heart, with a strong business sense. I enjoy the aesthetic appeal of magazine design, along with the intellectual application of the editorial content that can have an outward impact on the world around us. I also apply every personal and educational experience of my life. I am gay, but I am also Roman Catholic. I made it a point to include a Religion department alongside Issues + Politics, International News, Art + Culture, and Activism + Charity. We have made many major advancements socially, politically, and culturally as a community. However, if the LGBTQ+ community is to ever be completely free of oppression, then we need to confront and unify with our largest oppressors, which are religious groups. I would like to be a catalyst of real change. I also am diversely educated. I studied mechanical engineering but have a dual bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester in Economics and Political Science with a certification in Marketing and Finance. I studied law at Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC but did not complete my JD degree due to complications from being outed as gay. I am also a natural, self-trained artist with the ability to draw. I apply all of my education and artistry to my magazine. I am hands on with every editorial and design decision in Embrace. I have been told by the COO of the media group I am negotiating with that in essence, I am the magazine. What you see within the pages are all a reflection of me. 

S. H. : What are the plans for 2023 and beyond?

The immediate plans are to lock the negotiations with the media group and Gardner Productions. Then hopefully become a finalist at the GLAAD Media Awards and hopefully win. Either way, the plan is to attend the GLAAD Media Awards in LA or NYC and continue to network and bring awareness to Embrace Magazine and Embrace Media. If the deal with the media group goes through, Embrace Magazine will grow regionally, starting with states that have large LGBTQ+ communities, then expand outward. Ultimately, I would like to see a European version of Embrace, and a Spanish language version called Abrazo. There are still many areas in South and Central Americas that do not embrace the LGBTQ+ community yet. When a person comes out to their family, the family either shuns them or tries to have them institutionalized until they denounce being LGBTQ and reassimilate as straight. We need to reach those areas to promote and assist change. From there, assist those in need in other repressed areas of the world for LGBTQ+ people in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Looking further into the future, I would like to see Embrace Magazine have its own televised programming, maybe even a network, like National Geographic. Imagine the potential outreach Embrace could produce then. 

S. H. : Anything you’d like to add that I failed to ask, or you’d like to mention?

J. S. : When I am asked to improvise, I see an opportunity to add my shameless plug. As a startup, Embrace Magazine still needs financial support. We welcome investors, and of course advertisers. Our 2023 Media Kit is available on our website, embracemedia.us. I also welcome story ideas. Please reach me at john@sotomayormedia.com. Finally, I welcome new contributors: writers, columnists, photographers, illustrators, and graphic artists. Two-thirds of our contributors are LGBTQ+, the remaining third are allies. One of my goals was to provide a platform for talented LGBTQ+ artists to showcase their writing, photography, and design skills toward LGBTQ+ related subjects. They may not have the opportunity elsewhere. Allies are welcomed. Why would I not include the best writer or photographer simply because he or she or they are not gay? So long as they support the mission of the magazine, their talent is welcomed in our pages. We are all inclusive, diverse, and unifying. 

S. H. : And my typical last question, what keeps John up at night these days?

J. S. : I have two answers. First, I am concerned for all of our LGBTQ+ community, that our hard-earned civil rights are not torn away by the political mechanism that seems hellbent on doing so. Being from Florida, I see that already being enacted on the state level by our current governor, who has his eyes on the presidency in 2024. I have seen and heard the hate spewed by the Proud Boys who meet in rural bars to plan their next protest. They are getting louder, and forceful. They are no longer satisfied with disruption, they seek destruction. We at Embrace exist to counter, using intellect, compassion, and love to persuade people so that peace and prosperity win. These are the nightmares that keep me up at night. 

Second, I am always thinking three steps ahead, as I always have played my favorite game, chess. I do not compete against others. I compete against myself. However high I set the bar previously, I focus on how I can raise the bar even higher. I think, what theme or concept can we come up with to excite our audiences? The photo-essay that won our national award in photo excellence was world renown and revered drag photographer, and Embrace Magazine contributor, Magnus Hastings’ brilliant concept for his book, “Rainbow Revolution” which we used as the foundation for “Thinking Outside the Box.” We collaborated on the July 2022 Arts issue, “Icons Gone Wild” which featured popular LA drag queens reenacting iconic Hollywood actresses in well-known scenes, with a twist. The result will surely garner more awards, as it has received world-wide attention. We have come up with another concept I will keep secret, for now. I can tell you it will be published in our summer Travel issue, and it will be our campiest drag photo-essay yet! These are the thoughts that keep me up at night, that eventually turn to dreams.  

S. H.: Thank you.

To learn more about Embrace magazine and magazine media go to http://www.embracemedia.us

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